Rolling Stone Magazine is an insane publication. Not only do they repeatedly place compilations in their picks for the greatest albums of all time, but when they get around to choosing records, they waste them on bands like The Beatles. Yes. I said it. This edition of Everything Wrong with the Rolling Stone Top 100 Albums List details what they got right and what they got wrong about their picks from places 60 to 51. Is Jimi Hendrix really that good? Is Al Green the greatest soul singer of his generation? Is Stevie Wonder better than Ray Charles? Find out the answers to those questions and more in the article below.
60. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Trout Mask Replica
I’ll be honest. I didn’t understand this album. The songs sounded like some sort of Santeria driven cross between blues and jazz with a sprinkling of tribal dance vibes to top it all off. I did research the history of the album and its creation details a process utterly opposite to the final project.
Though the album sounds like someone took these genres and put them into a washing machine for forty-five minutes, the record was in fact meticulously planned for months. The band rehearsed for nearly 12 hours a day to create this “unique” sound. I am definitely not the person who should be judging this album – that person is tucked away in an asylum in Louisiana – but I’d say they made what they set out to create.
Trout Mask Replica is as unique a project as this list has yet to feature. This album, however, deserves to be on a list of its own – a list with only one record. Let’s just agree to keep it there for the time being. As for now, I’m looking forward to the True Detective Musical that I’m going to create just so that I can use this album for the songs.
59. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chronicle Vol. 1
Though this album is a compilation, it stands out from the other sets of dozens of songs spanning artists entire careers that have featured on this list. James Brown and Ray Charles have both had compilations that, though they include some truly amazing music, span almost thirty years of their career. In such instances, the albums feel like attempts to place the artists themselves into the list rather than one of their original creations.
This is not the case with Chronicle Vol. 1 from Creedence Clearwater Revival. This compilation assembles their music from the brief period between 1968 and 1972. During those years the civil rights movement reached its peak, Richard Nixon was elected president, and the United States had planted itself firmly in the quagmire of Vietnam. During those years – Creedence Clearwater Revival was the voice of the nation. Their California hippie personas clashed with their Louisiana sound to create a soulful blend of R&B, Rock, and Folk music that has not been seen since. In those four years, Creedence Clearwater Revival racked up 13 top 40 songs – a record that stands today as one of the most impressive runs by an American band.
Even today, the album sounds like the soundtrack to Vietnam and an ode to the chaos of the generation. John Fogerty’s 2-minute exertions of sound like “Fortunate Son,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” reference an era when hair was longer, protests were louder, and music actually meant something. “Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary,” and “Down on the Corner,” are equally energizing riffs of sound that color in the gaps of a generation many remember through tinted lenses that color up the political tension and social turmoil.
If nothing else, Creedence Clearwater Revival is an American band. Chronicle Vol. 1 collects their tracks from a four year period in which their music, more than any other group, defined their generation within their beloved country.
58. The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet
The album that debuted The Rolling Stones as we know them today, Beggars Banquet stripped the band to their core talents, focusing on their strengths while navigating around their weaknesses. After the disappointment of their previous psychedelic driven album, Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Stones needed a project to rebuild their identity and steer them back onto a course for musical legend. Beggars Banquet was that album.
Perhaps the most significant track of the album is its first, “Sympathy for the Devil.” Lyrically, you will be hard pressed to find a better Stones song. Add in references to the Kennedy assassinations, a set of bongo drums, and a few “woo woo’s,” and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece.
Though Beggars Banquet digs itself into a hole by presenting its best track at position one, the rest of the project is filled with delightful tracks. The Rolling Stones produced most of the songs in the studio but recorded a select few on a cassette tape, leading to the genuinely bizarre backings on some of the cuts.
“Street Fighting Man” sets Mick Jagger’s lowly blues persona with the harsh political climate that urges him to do nothing else but fight. “Jigsaw Puzzle” is a semi-satirical track dedicated to parodying The Rolling Stones themselves while Mick Jagger yearns for love. “Salt of the Earth” sounds like a track off Born in the USA that plays as an anthem to “the hard-working people” and their millions of listeners who can never join them on stage.
Beggars Banquet kicked off perhaps the most significant four album run of any band in history. It takes a deserved 58th spot on this list though I would not complain if it featured ten or twenty places higher.
57. Stevie Wonder, Songs in the Key of Life
At the age of 26, Stevie Wonder was releasing his 18th album when Songs in the Key of Life hit the shelves in September of 1976. Not only was the album the best Stevie Wonder has ever created, but Songs also debuted as Stevie Wonder’s most ambitious. The double-LP features numerous references to the singers and musicians that directly influenced his genius as well as Wonder’s unique flairs of funk and disco that seem entirely alien when placed at the heart of a soul album.
The album’s star attraction, “Sir Duke” directly calls out Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, and, of course, Duke Ellington with a flurry of horns that match Wonder’s aggressive passion for his musical idols. You cannot appreciate the scale of Wonder’s greatness on the album, however, in the span of one four-minute track. The first LP features “Loves in Need of Love Today,” “Village Ghetto Land,” “I wish” – my personal favorite from the album, and “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” Each of these songs is both seamless in its transition from its previous track as well as incredibly unique in its tone, pacing, and subject.
The second LP does not slow down for a second. The first track, “Isn’t She Lovely,” became an instant success that was covered by Frank Sinatra within weeks of the album's release. “Black Man,” another track on the second album, is perhaps Wonder’s most political song. In eight and a half epic minutes, Wonder delivers an electric call out to political and social leaders around the world.
Songs in the Key of Life is pure joy. The album sounds like it was produced yesterday but, when comparing its passion and energy to the music of our current time, it is on another planet. Stevie Wonder is a muse of funk and soul – Songs in the Key of Life is his greatest inspiration.
56. Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley
It’s challenging to think that there was a time when Elvis Presley was just a skinny white kid from Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis Presley, his first record, captures the essence of his meteoric rise that would see him become the most iconic rock musician in history and end with his coronation as “The King.”
If you’re looking for an album that contains the essence of Rock n’ Roll, this is the album for you. Not only does Elvis Presley bounce out of the speakers in equal parts rockabilly and country western, but also it contains the personality that would define his own legacy.
The album cover represents the content of the project entirely. An action shot that presents Elvis in his element, this photo signified the potential of a new, youth-driven movement that would spawn an entire genre of its own. A style that would see other pioneers like The Clash make tributes to Elvis’s first album cover in their own groundbreaking masterpiece, London Calling.
Much of the album sounds like it is blasting through a portal to a 1950’s radio station. The fast twang of Elvis' guitar and the hopping rhythms behind each song seem to have been pulled straight off the airways and into the studio. “Blue Suede Shoes” marks the high point for the album as the first track. The song combined the fast-paced rhythm and cavernous drums expected of these early sounds of a new genre. Add Elvis’ soulful voice over the top, and you get a winner. The rest of the album is stuck in 1956 and is by no means a project I plan on going back to. “Blue Moon” is a unique song that strips away the embellished production of the other tracks to reveal Elvis’ sensitive and lonesome voice that he would make iconic in his Vegas performances as he neared the end of his life.
In this format, Elvis sounds incredibly pure and innocent. Like the thousands of pop stars that followed his path, his corruption was inevitable. Elvis Presley preserves him as a 21-year-old Mississippi native whose legacy would define the genre he transported from the pioneering black artists of the south to the white, consuming audience that spanned the coasts.
55. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland
This album deserves a comfortable spot between places 90 and 100. Though many regard Jimi Hendrix as the most talented and accomplished guitarist of all time, I don’t buy it. There is no question of his capability when it comes to picking up a six-string, but his ability to belt out a solo or play behind his back does not convert to him creating brilliant music in the studio.
Rarely in Electric Ladyland does the pure genius of Hendrix bleed through the speakers. Tracks like “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” or “Gypsy Eyes” are difficult listens because they hinge on the ability for Hendrix’s vocal performance to give meaning to his guitar solos. On both tracks, the vocals sound foreign and uninvolved, making the final product feel helplessly incomplete.
On a few tracks, however, Electric Ladyland taps into the center of Hendrix’s electric stream of consciousness. “Voodoo Chile” represents one end of the spectrum, in which Hendrix is let off the chain to improvise and express himself through his fingers for fifteen chaotic minutes. “All Along the Watchtower” takes a different approach. Seeded in a cover of Bob Dylan’s original song, Hendrix takes an already brilliant song and elevates it to the heavens of soul and electricity. From the opening chords of “Watchtower,” you can’t help but feel the fibers of your muscles and tendons cling to your skeleton. Even your bones know they need to hang on tight.
Hendrix was an incredible talent but a mediocre songwriter. Electric Ladyland is Hendrix’s most significant achievement, but for this list of great albums, it is just too high.
54. Ray Charles, The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Recordings
Another album, another compilation.
Listening to Birth of Soul, I realized how much I – and I would assume many others – take Ray Charles for granted. No, he’s not just the guy Kanye sampled in “Gold Digger.” He’s far, far more.
Birth of Soul delivers what it tells you it will – the origin of an entire genre. Charles’ church-choir vocals and spiky piano charted the territory for the future of soul and gospel music. This formula combined the simplicity of gospel music with the style and intensity of some new "X" factor. That "X" factor - Charles himself.
This three-disc album contains numerous steps in Charles’ career that parallel his establishment of soul in the modern culture. Songs like “I Got a Woman” and “You Be My Baby” reflect deep urges of love and passion that sound as if they were scattered onto the piano in a fit of excitement. The rest of the 53 tracks are scattered with golden beacons to his lasting legacy.
Perhaps the album is too large to be considered for this list. After all, this selection yet again feels like Rolling Stone finding the best way possible to place a necessary artist on the list. Charles, however, deserves the same recognition as any pioneer and Birth of Soul contains everything required to do him justice.
53. The Beatles, Meet the Beatles!
Any band with an exclamation point in their album cover should not be allowed to feature in Rolling Stones Top 100.
That being said, in the next few weeks, The Beatles will, unfortunately, feature numerous times throughout this list. Do one or two of their albums deserve to make the cut? Probably. Should all of their records be forced into the list because a couple of Rolling Stones writers can’t get over the band that debuted in 1963? Of course not.
Once we enter the single digits, The Beatles’ albums will start to cloud the charts with mediocrity, hogging valuable positions from far more deserving albums. At the moment, however, we’re only at number 53. I will, therefore, reserve the majority of my vitriolic comments towards these lads from Liverpool for a later date.
Meet the Beatles! is ultimately a compilation album of the band’s first two studio projects that added a few tracks and took out a few others. The significance of the album lies in its release as the first Beatles album available for US fans to purchase. The album sounds like a parody of the band than an actual collection of their music. Perhaps it is their infamous appearance on the Ed Sullivan show that has been mocked by This is Spinal Tap, SNL, and even a Nirvana music video, but the songs on the album are desperately dull and uninspired.
Meet the Beatles! takes a valuable spot on this list that it simply does not deserve. I’m okay with having one or two of their albums in the places ahead, but this magazine’s insistence in cramming their music down the throats of their readers when they could fill the spot with a more deserving pick feels utterly disrespectful. If it does anything at all, this album displays the lunacy of Rolling Stone Magazine and the ability for “Beatlemania” to infect and manipulate even the highest paid critics as the world’s most pretentious music magazine.
52. Al Green, Greatest Hits
I must admit, Al Green’s Greatest Hits will forever hold a place in my soul. Late in 2017, I had some money left over on a gift card to Grimey's – Nashville’s record store – and decided to spend what credit I had left on a 10 track, 35-minute album by a man whose songs I had only heard in Pulp Fiction.
Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding should receive praise for their albums and achievements as icons of soul. Al Green, however, edges both of them as the greatest singer of his generation. Is that the hottest take you’ll read all day? Quite possibly. Is it wrong? Not for a second.
Al Green delivers more than emotion in his songs. Yes – at times he is longing for a lover or yearning for companionship – but he gives such feelings without sounding melodramatic or self-obsessed. This focus on the song above all else allows his music to exude enjoyment and radiate soul. Green also does not overcrowd his songs with his voice, instead allowing the vibes of funk and R&B to seep through the cracks in his vocals. The instrumentals, in return, illuminate his voice with tight horns and simple melodies. When voice meets instrument, the result is sublime.
Take “Love and Happiness” for example. Green opens the song with a long note from deep in the back of his throat. After a few seconds, a tapping drum, subtle guitar, and silky guitar layer into the song picking up the slack of his voice and elevating the tune to the heights of gospel. These songs are fun, orchestral representations of everything soul, funk, and R&B were meant to be. I cannot recommend Al Green’s Greatest Hits highly enough.
51. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water
When I saw this album came out in 1970, I was extremely disappointed. The audacity of this band to put out such a boring and soft album in 1970 of all years is hugely disrespectful. Have you ever had someone blow in your ear? Not comfortable is it? Well, then why did Simon and Garfunkel think they could do that on an album.
The entire album consists of two grown men whispering into your ear. Guess What?! That’s uncomfortable.
Granted, the album has some highlights with classics like “The Boxer,” a song that paints a dark portrait of a truly troubled man who has one heroic stand, “Cecilia,” a joyous and comical ode to a cheating lover, and “The Only Living Boy in New York,” an sad depiction of an overwhelming city. Bridge Over Troubled Water stakes its claim as an album that deserves a place on this list with these select tracks. The album, however, fails to deliver on the majority of the songs which sound like filler music from the deleted scenes of The Graduate. Listening to this album in 2019, I just cannot help but think that this is the favorite album of many of my English teachers from High School or of the WASPy elites who spent 5 years at Princeton or Dartmouth to get their undergraduate degrees in the early ‘70s.
Sure, throw it on the list. Keep an eye on it, though. I don’t want this album – like its album cover – to stand in the way of more deserving picks.